Whether it’s wild facts about animals, incredible human feats, or famous landmarks, the Weird But True! library of titles from National Geographic Kids is all about sharing the wonders of the world with young readers. Now, a new book is launching from National Geographic Kids in the form of an annual compendium. Weird But True! World 2023, which publishes in August, is full of all the things that readers love about Weird But True!, and the annual format means that there’s always new content to look forward to. Becky Baines, editorial director at National Geographic Kids, gave PW a sneak peek at the new book.
How would you describe the Weird But True! family of books?
Weird But True! is "edutainment" at its finest. The combination of the wow factor of weird information, stunning images and fun infographics, and pithy, quick-bite content make it the perfect pick for curious kids who love to be surprised by all the wonderful, bizarre stuff our planet has to offer. The reliability of the content thanks to a team of fact-checkers and researchers means the books are jam-packed with information that parents can trust. It will always be my #1 recommendation for reluctant readers and bookworms alike, whether kids are already fans of nonfiction or just dipping in a toe. There's something here for everyone.
Tell me all about Weird But True! World 2023. How will it grow annually?
We've seen so much success with our annual Almanac. Kids love to usher in a new season with the latest and greatest information about cool stuff happening all over the world. Weird But True is such a fan favorite, we thought if we could create an annual volume that delivers the same satisfying "round up" of info focused on the weird and wonderful that readers would gobble the content up. So we will be launching with one title per year, hitting shelves every August, right in time for the upcoming holiday season. Of course, we will continue to publish our other Weird But True! content, including the subject-driven books at two per year, and our Weird But True! Know-it-All study guide series with one new topic each year.
What particularly stands out for you about Weird But True! World?
I think that Weird But True! World is really special because it combines what our readers can't get enough of (endless bite-sized fun facts) with what National Geographic does best: showing people the world. We really wanted this book to be a celebration of all the weird stuff in the world—and our world in general. This book goes beyond the most famous landmarks in each continent and really dives into the most unique places and animals around the world. And when we do mention famous sites—the White House, the Great Wall of China, the Amazon River, even the International Space Station—we make sure to present them in a surprising new light.
Between the unique facts, photographs, and infographics, I’m sure that Weird But True! World 2023 was a huge team effort. What can you share about some of the research, consultation, and fact-gathering that went into the project?
We had an international team of writers, editors, fact-checkers, and photo researchers working on the project at the same time. Along with general fact-checking and sensitivity reviews, we also had a long list of individual expert consultants help us get the text and photos just right.
For example, for our fun fact spread about life at the Halley Research Station in Antarctica, we reached out to actual people who worked on the base, who gave us the inside scoop on what surprised them about life in Antarctica and what their day-to-day looked like. (They had A LOT to say, so distilling that info into fun fact chunks was a fun challenge for our writers.) We also had several back-and-forths with a marine biologist to make sure that we had just the right sea cucumber pictured.
Other individual contacts included the organizers of the cow chip (aka poop) throwing contest in Wisconsin, and the people behind the World Dog Surfing Championships.
In addition to that, the team also reached out to friends and contacts around the world simply to make sure that certain museums and sites were still open and available to the public. It's a bit of a bummer, but with COVID changing the world so quickly during our book production, what was open to the public and what wasn't seemed like it could change at the drop of a hat.
Can you share a few of your favorite "weird but true" facts and wonders in the book?
I really love all the creative, hilarious ways people celebrate and have fun around the world—from the mashed potato wrestling championships in Minnesota to the bog snorkeling competitions in Wales.
There are these caves in Mexico, called the Naica Crystal Caves, where you'll find these gigantic crystals. The photos are absolutely incredible. You'll see spelunkers standing on top of crystals that tower over them, around 40 feet tall.
The animals of Madagascar are absolutely incredible. One of my favorites is the world's tiniest chameleon, which sits comfortably on the face of a U.S. penny. There's also the leaf-nosed snake—which is exactly what it sounds like, a snake with a face that looks like a leaf and can disguise itself as a vine.
The world's most remote toilet is on a cliff edge in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, over 8,000 feet in elevation. At a golf course in Australia, there's a lake full of bull sharks at the 15th hole!
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Weird But True! World?
Part of our mission statement is that we aim to ignite curiosity, and excite and inspire a new generation of explorers. This is exactly the type of book to do just that. We want to bring the entire world to kids' fingertips. They can open a page and explore a vast desert on a faraway continent at the furthest reaches of our globe. A turn of the page reveals an underwater alien landscape or an ice-capped peak on the tallest mountain in the world. By introducing readers to these experiences when they are young, we hope to open their worldview to the possibilities outside their normal day-to-day. With a little inspiration and imagination, they can be transported anywhere. The fact that they're learning a ton of information in the process is just a bonus.
How are you reaching out to connect with readers, libraries, and schools for Weird But True! World 2023 and all the Weird But True! books?
Weird But True! World 2023 is a top priority title because it’s everything kids love about our bestselling Weird But True! franchise only BIGGER. On top of zany facts, stats, and maps and incredibly weird photos, it has fun, interactive elements like personality quizzes and quiz whizzes, and it’s updated and released every year. It takes everything we’ve learned about our two biggest successes—the Almanac and the Weird But True! series—and combines it into one powerhouse book. Although we have some competition in this category, there’s white space for a title that combines the fascinating, the odd, and the educational—and Weird But True! is just the right series to fill this unmet opportunity with an already proven track record.
We’re doing every kind of promotion that you might expect for a book with such high expectations: national media and review outreach; major print and digital advertising directly to kids as well as to parents, librarians, and educators; a major-market radio promotion; a parent influencer blog tour and giveaway; multiple video spots that we hope to air on the Disney channels as well as on YouTube and social media campaigns, and so much more.
But on top of all that, we’ve got a few other fun plans that are worthy of a book with “weird” in the title. We’re planning a quirky, attention-grabbing mailing to media and independent booksellers to make sure they know that something special is coming. You’ll have to wait to find out what that is! We’re also creating a downloadable event kit so that retailers, libraries, and classrooms can host their own Weird But True! Facts-travaganza—a kid-friendly twist on the popular trivia night. We know how important it is to get consumers back into stores, and we’re hoping that this fun event kit will help.
The last, and most important, thing I want readers to remember is that every purchase of a National Geographic book helps to support the global nonprofit National Geographic Society in its work to protect and illuminate our world through exploration, conservation, research, and education.